Maintaining a good quality sports pitch in countries with a hot climate can be tremendously challenging. Groundsmen in areas like the Mediterranean know this from experience. To facilitate the exchange of know-how and expertise as well as to learn from each other and identify common solutions, the Greek Super League together with the turf consultants Grassform, recently hosted a international conference to discuss this topic.
Viewers of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar had a front row seat to witness the impact of heavy usage of a football surface in a country where the climate doesn’t favour good grass grow immediately. As the tournament progressed, the various ground teams were increasingly being put to the test to prepare each field in time for the next game. The one thing that counted in their favour was that they had access to an array of technology to help them succeed.
It’s a challenge groundsmen in most leagues around the Mediterranean are all too familiar with. The Greek Super League brought them together to discuss it and to create a better picture of technology and solutions available to make life easier. “Groundsmen have to overcome issues with lack of equipment or resources or legal restrictions like the use of some pesticides or fertilizers commonly used in other parts of the world but that are not allowed in Greece,” highlighted Greek Super League media manager, Pierre Kosmidis, as some of the challenges groundsmen in Greece face. Turf Quality Manager at Super League Greece and owner of Grassform Greece, Antonis Grimotsis, explained to the audience how Grassform has improved and is currently maintaining the quality of the surfaces. “We constantly monitor the surface performance through field testing, data collection and analysis before we develop maintenance programs and targeted interventions,” he said before the stage was handed over to speakers from all over the world.
Take your time
Amongst them, Ben Corby, sports turf manager at Desert Group. “It is not uncommon in the UAE to have average day temperatures of 40-45 degrees Celsius with 75% humidity during a summer day and 20-25 degrees Celsius with 60% humidity during winter,” said the veteran with 15 years of experience in the building and maintaining of sports surfaces in the Middle East. Here, pitches can experience over 20 hours of usage per week. “We only get up to 100mm annual rainfall, making irrigation key for us. Some sites use as much as 100,000 liters of water per day.” The UAE mainly uses treated effluent water to irrigate sports pitches. Most fields have 100% sand based profiles with added organic content. To ensure pitches remain in pristine condition, Corby advises to dedicate at least one maintenance day for every 7 to 14 days to complete tasks like aeration, grooming and nutrition, to name a few. Pitches that are used more than three hours a day, require two to three day maintenance a week. He warned the audience that warm season grass or overseeded turf can get very thick thatch build up due to its stoloniferous growth habit. “They can also easily grain if mown in the same direction.” In his presentation, he presented a variety of maintenance activities as well as the advised frequency to keep the pitch in good condition.
Carlos Venegas, grounds manager at Sevilla F.C., emphasized the need for overseeding Bermudagrass and discussed how this should be handled. “Two months before overseeding we stop using preemergent while the adding nitrogen and fertilizers is stopped one month before we overseed,” he said. Ideally, he uses a PGR before hollow coring and aggressive verticutting (in two directions), slit seeding, topdressing and fertilizing the field to finish off the project. Venegas advised to let the field rests for at least three weeks and to ensure that a good nutrition plan is in place.
Sustainable field management
Adam Witchell, head groundsman of Harlequins RFU as well as Matthew Le Brun of Advanced Grass Solutions each discussed an element of maintenance practices at Twickenham stadium in the UK. With over 15 years’ experience in the turf industry, Matthew Le Brun has worked with key accounts in the UK to understand the challenges and aid production of world leading results.
His main topic of discussion being ‘Sustainability vs Performance’ In which he shared information from Twickenham Stadium RFU and Loughborough University. Both venues alike many others in the UK whom are leading the development in sustainability and optimum turf performance.
Adam Witchell raised the points of sustainability and organic management. He strongly opposes the use of chemicals. “It’s extraordinary how many health issues are associated with pesticides,” he told the audience. “Cancers, neurological problems and birth defects are some of the most dramatic, but increased asthma attacks and skin disorders take a huge toll on the people affected.” He also pointed out that pesticides can reach unintended targets in several ways: they can be spilled into near waterways or even be carried into the homes on shoes. According to him, in the UK, clubs, courses and sports facilities have and do a lot to not contaminate water ways and safety standards and safe working standards are implemented in most cases. Witchell advocated the use of bio nutritional products. “Bionutritional products, contain calcium and magnesium and other nutrients, fungi and beneficial microbes. The fungi and beneficial microbes help utilize these nutrients to the best of the plants’ ability,” he explained. “For example, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, helps break down nitrogen from the air or nitrogen locked in the soil and turn it into nitrate, the form that’s usable
by the plant.” His advice is to draw up a biology plain. “This describes our aims and what we use.” While additional support will certainly help, “good cultural practices will help reduce a disease outbreak,” he pointed out. However, it’s a practice that can’t go without additional help in areas that experience hot temperatures, claimed Marcela Muñoz, a turf business manager at Bion International. “Climate change, unique artificial microclimate, water precious resources, shorter windows of turf recovery and a high demand of quality as well as faster game and playability parameters, drive innovations in water management,” she explained while referring to wetting agents. “These are available as a liquid, granular or tablets with some being synthetic and others being organic. In the EU, the latter need to be registered.” The wetting agent breaks hydrophobicity and increase uniformity soil moisture content which results an increase in germination and speed of establishment. However, with more restrictions to come, she advised for an agronomic integrated approach to ensure maximum result.
More radical interventions
Speakers Andre Wolbrink of Greenfields and Xavi Tordera of SGL presented more radical solutions. Wolbrink discussed their XtraGrass hybrid-system. An Xtragrass field has 5-10% synthetic turf fibers that are woven in a partly open, biodegradable backing. Where an Xtragrass field in cold season climates predominantly has a sand root zone top layer of at least 15 cm thick, Greenfields ads a gravel layer when building such surface in places with warm season grasses. “This to facilitate a USGA spec with as suspended water table,” Wolbrink said. “In a stadium, the field can perform up to 50 hours a year on natural grass while a field that is used for both matches and training purposes can be used up to 400 hours a year. If the natural grass field is exclusively used for training, you can safely use it for up to 600 hours per year,” he added. XtraGrass hybrid can extend this with 3 times. Apart from covering a whole field, XtraGrass is also often used to only strengthen high-wear areas like penalty boxes and linesmen zones.
Xavi Tordera knows too well, what damages a pitch can experience. The SGL Area Manager listed wear and tear due to games, grass damage due to events, reduced growth due to climatic conditions or shade as well as the diseases as possible reasons why venues can struggle with achieving a top-quality pitch. Their grass grow lighting system can revive grass even after having hosted a 5-day concert. After many years of research, recently they have expanded their range of LED units with infrared heaters. The technology, once developed by a Dutch rose grower, uses specific settings to support warm season grasses. “Paspalum requires a minimum temperature of 15 degrees Celsius and 20-30 mol light per square meter per day where Perennial ryegrass will need a minimum temperature of 5 degrees Celsius and 9 to 15 mol light per square meter per day,” he explained. Data from sensors, is fed to a dashboard from where the system is controlled.
A glimpse of a future
Oliver Deeming of Tottenham Hotspur F.C. presented the delegates what it is that technology and advanced solutions combined, can achieve. The new Tottenham Hotspur stadium is resurfaced once a year and has a Desso Playmaster surface. Like the Greenfields Xtragrass, the Playmaster is a lay-and-play solution. The stadium uses 864 SGL high pressure sodium lights to produce enough light at times when the impact of the sun is hindered by typical English weather or when the field is retracted. The Tottenham Hotspur stadium was the first in the world that introduced into a special in-house pitch pocket storage area where the pitch pockets are stored when the stadium is used for a different purpose. The Santiago Bernabeu stadium will soon follow with a similar solution. “Here in this controlled environment, we use plant growth regulators to suppress growth and aid the longevity of fungicide applications,” Deeming explained. Robotic mowers are used to reduce the height of the cut to around 17mm.
Respected in its own way
According to the Greek Super League media manager, Pierre Kosmidis, the league strictly adheres to FIFA/UEFA quality standards for their stadium surfaces. “We are using the 5-star evaluation system of Propitch, which is also followed by UEFA,” he said. “The current status of pitches at Super League Greece is 3 stars on average, with 5 out of the 14 stadium fields being over 4-star.” The Propitch concept was explained by Niall MacPhee and his colleague Ian Craig of Sports. “Warm season and cold season grasses are scored differently in the system,” Macphee pointed out. He alluded to the FIFA natural pitch rating system and the test manual FIFA has for natural playing surfaces. “Assessing the turf is important as it guarantees the user safety, performance and durability of the pitch,” he added. An app on a mobile phone allows groundsmen to always have their data at hand. The ProPitch concept facilitates various assessment types. “The ProPitch Lite assessment allows grounds managers to quickly gather basic data on turf quality and pitch performance and is complemented by the ProPitch 15 and ProPitch 18 assessments,” Ian Craig pointed out. He reminded the delegates that a good pitch is a firm, fast, smooth, even surface where players keep their footing and that drains well and looks good.
From the attendance it is evident that there is a growing interest in warm season grasses. For those who were unable to attend, the Greek Super League has uploaded all presentations here.